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3.15: Oedipus The King - Sophocles (ca. 496-ca. 406 B.C.E.)

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    Composed ca. 429-420 B.C.E.


    Although Sophocles wrote over one hundred plays, only seven survive. In competitions during religious festivals for Dionysus, which required three playwrights to present three dramatic plays each (plus a farce), Sophocles won first place at least twenty times; the rest of the time, he came in second (never third). Greek plays previously had a chorus and one actor on stage; Aeschylus (ca. 525-456) introduced the idea of a second actor, while Sophocles was the first to have three actors, plus painted scenery as a backdrop for the action. Masks allowed the (all male) actors to portray men, women, children, and gods without confusion. Since the stories were familiar to the audience, the popularity of Sophocles stems from his clever wordplay and insightful grasp of psychology. The three plays that cover the story of Oedipus and his family are referred to as the Theban cycle, although they were written for different competitions over 36 years of his career: Antigone, which was written first, but chronologically is the last story; Oedipus Tyrannos (or just Oedipus), which was written second, but chronologically is the first story; and Oedipus at Colonus, which was written last, but chronologically is the second story. Oedipus begins in medias res, with the city of Thebes suffering from a plague; as the king, Oedipus is trying to discover why the gods are punishing the city.

    Written by Laura J. Getty

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    Oedipus Tyrannus

    [Oedipus the King]

    Sophocles, Translated by D. W. Myatt

    Oedipus, King of Thebes
    Jocasta, his Consort and wife
    Creon, brother of Jocasta
    Tiresias, the blind prophet
    A Priest, of Zeus
    First Messenger
    Second Messenger
    A Shepherd
    Chorus, of Theban Elders

    Scene: Before the wealthy dwelling of Oedipus at Thebes

    My children—you most recently reared from ancient Cadmus—
    Why do you hasten to these seats
    Wreathed in suppliant branches?
    Since the citadel is filled with incense,
    Chants and lamentations 5
    I did not deem it fitting, my children, to hear
    The report of some messenger—so I come here myself:
    I, Oedipus the renowned, who is respected by you all.
    As you, Elder, are distinguished by nature,
    You should speak for these others. Is your manner 10
    One of fear or affection? My will is to assist you
    For I would be indifferent to pain
    Were I not to have pity after such a supplication as this.

    Oedipus, master of my land:
    You see how many sit here 15
    Before your altars—some not yet robust enough
    To fly far; some heavy as I, Priest of Zeus, with age;
    And these, chosen from our unmarried youth.
    Enwreathed like them, our people sit in the place of markets,
    By the twin shrines of Pallas 20
    And by the embers of the Ismenian oracle.
    Our clan, as you yourself behold, already heaves
    Too much—its head bent
    To the depths bloodily heaving.
    Decay is in the unfruitful seeds in the soil, 25
    Decay is in our herds of cattle—our women
    Are barren or abort, and that god of fever
    Swoops down to strike our clan with an odious plague,
    Emptying the abode of Cadmus and giving dark Hades
    An abundance of wailing and lamentation. 30
    Not as an equal of the gods do I,
    And these children who sit by your altar, behold you—
    But as the prime man in our problems of life
    And in our dealings and agreements with daimons.
    You arrived at our town of Cadmus to disentangle us 35
    From the tax we paid to that harsh Songstress—
    And that with less than we knew because
    Without our experience. Rather—and it is the custom
    To say this—you had the support of a god
    And so made our lives to prosper. 40
    Thus, Oedipus—you, the most noble of all—
    We all as suppliants beseech you
    To find us a defence, whether it be from a god’s oracle
    Or whether it be learnt from some man.
    For those who are practical are, by events,
    Seen to give counsels which are the most effective. 45
    Most noble among mortals—restore our clan!
    But—be cautious. For now this land of yours
    Names you their protector for your swiftness before—
    Do not let it be recorded of your leadership 50
    That you raised us up again only to let us thereafter fall:
    So make us safe, and restore our clan.
    Favourable—then—the omens, and prosperity
    You brought us: be of the same kind, again!
    For, in commanding a land, as you are master of this, 55
    It is much better to be master of men than of an emptiness!
    Of no value are a ship or a defensive tower
    If they are empty because no men dwell within them.

    You, my children, who lament—I know, for I am not without knowledge,
    Of the desire which brings you here. For well do I see 60
    All your sufferings—and though you suffer, it is I
    And not one of you that suffers the most.
    For your pain comes to each of you
    By itself, with nothing else, while my psyche
    Mourns for myself, for you and the clan. 65
    You have not awakened me from a resting sleep
    For indeed you should know of my many tears
    And the many paths of reflection I have wandered upon and tried.
    And, as I pondered, I found one cure
    Which I therefore took. The son of Menoeceus, 70
    Creon—he who is my kin by marriage—I have sent to that Pythian dwelling
    Of Phoebus to learn how I
    By word or deed can give deliverance to the clan.
    But I have already measured the duration
    And am concerned: for where is he? He is longer than expected 75
    For his absence is, in duration, greater than is necessary.
    Yet when he does arrive, it would dishonourable
    For me not to act upon all that the gods makes clear.

    It is fitting that you spoke thus—for observe that now
    We are signalled that Creon is approaching. 80

    Lord Apollo! Let our fate be such
    That we are saved—and as bright as his face now is!

    I conjecture it is pleasing since he arrives with his head crowned
    By laurel wreaths bearing many berries.

    Soon we will know, for, in distance, he can hear us now. 85
    [Enter Creon]

    Lord—son of Menoeceus—my kin by marriage:
    Give to us the saying you received from the god!

    It is propitious, for I call it fortunate when what is difficult to bear
    Is taken from us, enabling us thus to prosper again.

    But what is it? I am not given more courage
    Nor more fear by your words.90

    Do you insist upon hearing it here,
    Within reach of these others—or shall we go within?

    Speak it to all. For my concern for their suffering
    Is more than even that for my own psyche. 95

    Then I shall speak to you what I heard from the god.
    The command of Lord Phoebus was clear—
    That defilement nourished by our soil
    Must be driven away, not given nourishment until it cannot be cured.

    When came this misfortune? How to be cleansed? 100

    Banishment of a man—or a killing in return for the killing
    To release us from the blood and thus this tempest upon our clan.


    What man is thus fated to be so denounced?

    My Lord, Laius was the chief
    Of this land, before you guided us. 105

    That I have heard and know well although I never saw him.

    Because he was slaughtered it is clearly ordered that you
    Must punish the killing hands, whosesoever they are.


    But are they in this land? Can we still find
    The now faded marks of the ancient tracks of those so accused? 110

    Can be caught, but will escape if not attended to.
    Still in our land, he said. What is saught

    Was Laius in his dwelling, in his fields,
    Or in another land when he met his death?

    He said he was journeying to a shrine: 115
    But, having gone, he did not return.

    Was there no messenger, no other with him
    Who saw anything and whom we could consult and thus learn from?

    No-killed: all of them. Except one who fled in fear
    And so saw nothing except the one thing he did speak of seeing. 120

    What? One thing may help us learn many more
    And such a small beginning may bring us hope.

    He announced that robbers came upon them and, there being so many,
    In their strength slew them with their many hands.

    How could robbers do that? Unless-unless silver 125
    Was paid to them, from here! Otherwise, they would not have the courage!

    Such was the opinion. But with Laius killed
    No one arose to be his avenger since we had other troubles.

    What troubles were before you that with your King fallen
    You were kept from looking? 130

    The convoluted utterances of the Sphinx made us consider what was before us
    And leave unknown what was dark.

    Then, as a start, I shall go back to make it visible.
    It is fitting for Phoebus, and fitting also for you
    For the sake of him dead, to return your concern there 135
    And fair that I am seen as an ally
    In avenging this land and the god.
    Yet not in the name of remote kin
    But for myself will I banish the abomination
    Since that person who killed may—and soon— 140
    And by his own hand, wish to avenge me.
    Thus in this way by so giving aid, I also benefit myself.
    Now and swiftly, my children, stand up from these steps—
    Raising your suppliant branches—
    And go to summon here the people of Cadmus 145
    For I shall do all that is required. Either good fortune—
    If the gods wills—will be shown to be ours, or we shall perish.
    [Exit Oedipus]

    Stand, children, for that favour
    For which we came he has announced he will do.
    May Phoebus—who delivered this oracle— 150
    Be our Saviour and cause our suffering to cease.
    [Exit Priest. Enter Chorus]

    Zeus—your pleasing voice has spoken
    But in what manner from gold-rich Pytho do you come
    To the splendour that is Thebes?
    My reason is stretched by dread as fear shakes me—
    155 O Delian Paeon I invoke you!—
    And I am in awe. For is this new
    Or the continuation of that obligation
    Which each season brings again?
    Speak to me with your divine voice, 160
    You born from she whom we treasure—our Hope!
    You I shall name first—you the daughter of Zeus, the divine Athene!
    And then you, her sister, who defends our lands—Artemis!—
    Whose illustrious throne is the circle of our market.
    And you, Phoebus with your far-reaching arrows! 165
    You—the triad who guard us from death! Appear to me!
    When misfortune moved over our clan before
    You came to completely drive away that injuring fire—
    So now come to us, again!
    Beyond count are the injuries I bear 170
    And all my comrades are sick;
    There is no spear of thought to defend us—
    The offspring of our fertile soil do not grow
    While at the birth there are no cries of joy
    For the women stretched by their labour: 175
    I behold one after another rushing forth—swifter than feathered birds,
    Swifter than invincible fire—
    Toward the land of the twilight god!
    They are beyond count and make the clan to die:
    For her descendants lie unpitied, unmourned on the ground 180
    Condemning others to death
    As both the child-less and the mothers gather
    Around the base of the altars
    To labour as suppliants with their injurious laments
    Although clear are the hymns to the Healer 185
    Above those accompanying wailing voices!
    In answer, you whom we hold precious—daughter of Zeus—
    Send us She of strength with the beautiful eyes!
    Grant that fiery Ares—he who fights not with shield of bronze
    But who burns as he encircles with his battle-cry— 190
    Turns around to swiftly run back, away from our fatherland
    With a fair wind following, to that great Chamber of Amphitrite
    Or to that Thracian harbour where strangers are dashed,
    Since what he neglects at night He achieves when day arrives.
    Thus—you who carry fire, 195
    Who bestows the power of lighting—
    All-father Zeus: waste him beneath your thunder!
    Lord Lyceus! From your gold-bound bowstring
    I wish you to deal out the hardest of your arrows
    So they rise before us as a defence! 200
    And you—Artemis—who by your gleaming light
    Rushes through the mountains of Lycia.
    And you of the golden mitre whose name
    Is that of our land—I invoke you
    Ruddied Bacchus with E-U-O-I!— 205
    With your roaming Maenads
    Come near to us with your blazing pine-torch
    And gleaming eyes, to be our ally
    Against that god given no honour by gods!
    [Enter Oedipus]

    You ask and what you ask will come— 210
    For if you in your sickness listen and accept and assist me
    You shall receive the strength to lift you out of this trouble.
    I here make the declaration even though I am a stranger to that report
    And a stranger to that deed. I, myself, would not have delayed
    Tracking this, even had there been no signs. 215
    But since it was after these things
    I became a tax-paying citizen among you citizens,
    I proclaim this now to all who are of Cadmus:
    Whosoever, concerning Laius son of Labdacus,
    Knows the man who killed him
    I command him to declare everything to me. 220
    But if he is afraid, he can himself remove the accusation
    Against him since what awaits him
    Shall not be hostile since he shall pass uninjured to another land.
    But if you know of another from another region
    Whose hand did it, do not be silent 225
    For I shall reward and confer favours upon you.
    But if you keep silent because he is your own kin
    Or because you yourself are afraid and so reject this—
    Then hear what I of necessity must do.
    I forbid that man, whoever he is, to be in this land— 230
    This land where I have power and authority:
    No one is to receive him nor speak to him;
    Neither is he to share in your offering thanks to the gods,
    Nor in the sacrifices or in the libations before them.
    Instead, everyone shall push him away—for our defilement 235
    Is, in truth, him: as the Pythian god
    By his oracle just now announced to me.
    Thus in such a way do I and this god
    And the man who was killed become allies—
    And so this pact I make concerning he who did that deed 240
    Whether alone or together with others in secret:
    Being ignoble, may his miserable life ignobly waste away.
    And I also make this pact—that should he arrive at my dwelling
    And with my consent stay by my hearth, then may that disease
    I desired for those ones come to me! 245
    So I command you to accomplish this
    On behalf of me, the god and this land
    Now barren, lain waste and without gods.
    For even had no god sent you to deal with this matter
    It would not have been fitting to leave it uncleaned 250
    For the man killed was both brave and your own lord:
    You should have enquired. However, I now have the authority
    And hold the command that was his,
    And now possess his chambers and his woman—seeded by us both—
    And by whom we might have children shared in common had that family 255
    Not had its misfortune and thus there had been a birth:
    But it was not to be, for fate bore down upon him.
    Thus, I—as if he were my own father—
    Will fight for him and will go to any place
    To search for and to seize the one whose hand killed 260
    That son of Labdacus—he of Polydorus,
    Of Cadmus before that and before then of ancient Agenor.
    As to those who do not do this for me, I ask the god
    That the seeds they sow in the earth shall not bring forth shoots
    Nor their women children, and also that it be their destiny 265
    To be destroyed by this thing—or one that is much worse.
    But as for you others, of Cadmus, to whom this is pleasing—
    May the goddess, Judgement, who is on our side,
    And all of the gods, be with us forever.

    Bound by your oath, my Lord, I speak: 270
    I am not the killer—nor can I point out he who did the killing.
    It is he who sent us on this search—
    Phoebus—who should say who did that work.

    That would be fair. But to compel th gods
    Against their will is not within the power of any man. 275

    Shall I speak of what I consider is the second best thing to do?

    Do not neglect to explain to me even what is third!

    He who sees the most of what Lord Phoebus knows
    Is Lord Tiresias—and it is from his watching, and clearness,
    My Lord, that we might learn the most. 280

    I have not been inactive in attending to that:
    Since Creon spoke of it, I have sent two escorts—
    And it is a wonder after this long why he is not here.

    What can still be told of those things is blunt from age.

    What is there? For I am watching for any report. 285

    It was said that he was killed by travellers.

    That I have heard—but no one sees here he who observed that.

    But he will have had his share of fear
    Having heard your pact—and will not have stayed here.

    And he who had no fear of the deed? Would such a one fear such words? 290

    But here is he who can identify him. For observe,
    It is the prophet of the god who is led here:
    He who of all mortals has the most ability to reveal things.
    [Enter Tiresias, guided by a boy]

    Tiresias—you who are learned in all things:
    what can be taught; what is never spoken of;
    What is in the heavens and what treads on the earth— 295
    Although you have no sight, can you see how our clan
    Has given hospitality to sickness? You are our shield,
    Our protector—for you, Lord, are the only remedy we have.
    Phoebus—if you have not heard it from the messengers—
    Sent us as answer to our sending: release from the sickness 300
    Will come only if we are skilled enough to discover who killed Laius
    And kill them or drive them away from this land as fugitives.
    Therefore, do not deny to us from envy the speech of birds
    Or any other way of divination which you have,
    But pull yourself and this clan—and me— 305
    Pull us away from all that is defiled by those who lie slain.
    Our being depends on you. For if a man assists someone
    When he has the strength to do so, then it is a noble labour.

    Ah! There is harm in judging when there is no advantage
    In such a judgement. This I usefully understood 310
    But then totally lost. I should not have come here.

    What is this? Are you heartless, entering here so?
    TIRESIAS Permit me to return to my dwelling. Easier then will it be
    For you to carry what is yours, and I what is mine, if you are persuaded in this.

    Such talk is unusual because unfriendly toward this clan 315
    Which nourishes you: will you deprive us of oracles?

    Yes-for I know that the words you say
    Are not suitable. And I will not suffer because of mine.
    Before the gods! Turn aside that judgement! Here, before you,
    All of us are as humble suppliants! 320

    Since all of you lack judgement, I will not speak either about myself
    Or you and so tell about defects.

    What ? If you are aware of it but will not speak,
    Do you intend to betray and so totally destroy your clan?

    I will not cause pain to either you or myself. Therefore, 325
    Why these aimless rebukes since I will not answer.

    Not...? Why, you ignoble, worthless...! A rock,
    By its nature, can cause anger. Speak it!
    Or will you show there is no end to your hardness?

    You rebuke me for anger but it is with you 330
    That she dwells, although you do not see this and blame me instead.

    And whose being would not have anger
    Hearing how you dishonour our clan!

    By themselves, these things will arrive—even though my silence covers them.

    Then since they shall arrive, you must speak to me about them! 335

    Beyond this, I explain nothing. But if it is your will,
    Become savage with wroth in anger.

    Yes indeed I will yield to the anger possessing me
    Since I do understand! For I know you appear to me
    To have worked together with others to produce that deed, 340
    Although it was not your hand that did the killing. But—had you sight—
    I would say that the blow was yours and yours alone!

    Is that so! I declare it is to the proclamation
    You announced that you must adhere to, so that from this day
    You should not speak to me or these others 345
    Since you are the unhealthy pollution in our soil!

    It is disrespectful to bound forth
    With such speech! Do you believe you will escape?

    I have escaped. For, by my revelations, I am nourished and made strong.

    Where was your instruction from? Certainly not from your craft! 350

    From you—for against my desire I cast out those words.

    What words? Say them again so I can fully understand.

    Did you not hear them before? Or are your words a test?

    They expressed no meaning to me. Say them again.

    I said you are the killer and thus the man you seek. 355

    You shall not escape if you injure me so again!

    Shall I then say more to make your anger greater?

    As much as you desire for you are mistaken in what you say.

    I say that with those nearest to you are you concealed
    In disrespectful intimacy, not seeing the trouble you are in. 360

    Do you believe you can continue to speak so and remain healthy?

    Yes, if revelations have power.

    They do for others, but not for you! They have none for you

    Because you are blind in your ears, in your purpose as well as in your eyes!

    In faulting me for that you are unfortunate 365
    Because soon there will be no one who does not find fault with you.

    You are nourished by night alone! It is not for me,
    Or anyone here who sees by the light, to injure you.

    It is not my destiny to be defeated by you—

    Apollo is sufficient for that, since it is his duty to obtain vengeance. 370

    Were those things Creon’s inventions—or yours?

    It is not Creon who harms you—it is yourself.

    Ah! Wealth, Kingship and that art of arts
    Which surpasses others—these, in life, are envied:
    And great is the jealousy cherished because of you. 375
    It is because of this authority of mine—which this clan
    Gave into my hands, unasked—
    That the faithful Creon, a comrade from the beginning,
    Desires to furtively creep about to overthrow me
    And hires this performing wizard, 380
    This cunning mendicant priest who sees only
    For gain but who is blind in his art!
    So now tell me: where and when have you given clear divinations?
    For you did not—when that bitch was here chanting her verses—
    Speak out and so give deliverance to your clansfolk. 385
    Yet her enigma was not really for somepassing man
    To disclose since it required a prophet’s art:
    But your augury foretold nothing and neither did you learn anything
    From any god! It was I who came along—
    I, Oedipus, who sees nothing!—I who put and end to her 390
    By happening to use reason rather than a knowledge of augury.
    Now it is me you are trying to exile since your purpose
    Is to stand beside the throne among Creon’s supporters.
    But I intend to make you sorry! Both of you—who worked together
    To drive me out. And if I did not respect you as an Elder, 395
    Pain would teach you a kind of judgement!

    Yet I suspect that he has spoken
    In anger, as I believe you did, Oedipus.
    But this is not what is needed. Instead, it is the god’s oracle
    That will, if examined, give us the best remedy. 400

    Though you are the King, I have at least an equality of words
    In return, for I also have authority.
    I do not live as your servant—but for Loxias—
    Just as I am not inscribed on the roll as being under Creon’s patronage.
    Thus, I speak for myself—since you have found fault with me because I am blind. 405
    When you look, you do not see the trouble you are in,
    Nor where you dwell, nor who you are intimate with.
    Do you know from whom your being arose? Though concealed, you are the enemy
    Of your own, below and upon this land:
    On both sides beaten by your mother and your father 410
    To be driven out from this land by a swift and angry Fury—
    And you who now see straight will then be in darkness.
    What place will not be a haven for your cries?
    What Cithaeron will not, and soon, resound with them
    When you understand your wedding-night in that abode 415
    Into where you fatefully and easily sailed but which is no haven from your voyage?
    Nor do you understand the multitude of troubles
    Which will make you equal with yourself and your children.
    Thus it is, so therefore at my mouth and at Creon’s
    Throw your dirt! For there is no other mortal whose being 420
    Will be so completely overwhelmed by troubles as yours.

    Am I to endure hearing such things from him?
    May misfortune come to you! Go from here—without delay!
    Away from my dwelling! Turn and go!

    I would not have come here, had you not invited me. 425

    I did not know you would speak nonsense
    Or I would have been unwilling to ask you here to my dwelling.

    So you believe I was born lacking sense?
    Yet I made sense to those who gave you birth.

    What? Wait! Which mortals gave me birth? 430

    It is on this day that you are born and also destroyed.

    All that you have said is enigmatic or lacking in reason.

    But are you not the best among us in working things out?

    Do you find fault with what I have discovered is my strength?

    It is that very fortune which has totally ruined you. 435

    I am not concerned—if I have preserved this clan.

    Then I shall depart. You—boy! Lead me away.

    Let him lead you away. While here, you are under my feet
    And annoy me. When gone—you will give me no more pain.

    I shall go but speak that for which I was fetched, with no dread 440
    Because of your countenance. For you cannot harm me.
    I say that the man you have long searched for
    And threatened and made proclamation about for the killing
    Of Laius—he is present, here.
    Although called a foreigner among us, he will be exposed as a native 445
    Of Thebes but have no delight in that event.
    Blind, though recently able to see—
    And a beggar, who before was rich—he shall go to foreign lands
    With a stick to guide him along the ground on his journey.
    And he shall be exposed to his children as both their father 450
    And their brother; to the woman who gave him birth
    As both her son and husband; and to his father
    As his killer who seeded her after him. So go
    Within to reason this out and if you catch me deceiving you,
    Then say that in my prophecies there is nothing for me to be proud of. 455
    [Exit Tiresias and Oedipus]

    Who is the one that the god-inspired oracle-stone at Delphi saw
    With bloody hands doing that which it is forbidden to speak of?
    For now is the day for him to move his feet swifter
    Than storm’s horses as he flees
    Since the son of Zeus—armed with fire and lightning— 460
    Is leaping toward him
    Accompanied by those angry
    And infallible Furies!
    It was not that long ago that the omen shone forth
    From the snows of Parnassus:
    Search everywhere for that man who is concealed; 465
    He who wanders up to the wild-woods,
    Through caves and among the rocks like some bull—
    He unlucky in his desolation who by his unlucky feet
    Seeks to elude that prophecy from the Temple at the centre of the world—
    That living doom which circles around him. 470
    There is a strange wonder—wrought by he who is skilled in augury;
    I cannot believe, yet cannot disbelieve, nor explain my confusion
    For fear hovers over me. I cannot see what is here, or what is behind!
    Yet—if there was between the family of Labdacus,
    And that son of Polybus, any strife existing 475
    Either now or before, I have not learned of it
    To thus use it as proof to examine by trial and thus attack
    The public reputation of Oedipus, becoming thus for the family of Labdacus
    Their ally in respect of that killing which has been concealed.
    Rather—this is for Zeus and Apollo, who have the skill 480
    To understand, although that other man has won more
    For his discoveries than I.
    Even so, on some things nothing decisive is discovered:
    As in learning, where by learning
    One man may overtake another. 485
    Thus not before I see that they who accuse him are speaking straight
    Will I declare myself for them
    For she was visible—that winged girl who came down against him—
    And we then saw proof of his knowledge, which was beneficial to our clan.
    So therefore my decision is not to condemn him as ignoble. 490
    [Enter Creon]

    Clansmen! Having learnt of a horrible accusation
    Made against me by Oedipus the King
    I hastened here! If, in these our troubles,
    He deems that he has suffered because of me—
    Been injured by some word or some deed— 495
    Then I would have no desire to live as long as I might
    Having to bear such talk! For it is not simple—
    The damage that would be done to me by such words:
    Rather, it would be great, for I would be dishonoured before my clan—
    With you and my kinsfolk hearing my name dishonoured. 500

    That insult perhaps came forth because of anger—
    Rather than being a conclusion from reason.

    And it was declared that it was my reasoning
    Which persuaded the prophet to utter false words?

    It was voiced—but I do not know for what reason. 505

    Were his eyes straight, was he thinking straight
    When he made that allegation against me?

    I do not know. For I do not observe what my superiors do.
    But here, from out of his dwelling, comes the Chief himself.
    [Enter Oedipus]

    You there! Why are you here? Have you so much face 510
    That you dare to come to my home?
    You—the one exposed as the killer of its man
    And, vividly, as a robber seeking my Kingship!
    In the name of the gods, tell me if it was cowardice or stupidity
    That you saw in me when you resolved to undertake this! 515
    Did you reason that I would not observe your cunning treachery—
    Or, if I did learn of it, I would not defend myself?
    Instead, it was senseless of you to set your hand to this—
    With no crowd or comrades—and go in pursuit of authority:
    That which is captured by using wealth and the crowd! 520

    You know what you must do—in answer to your words
    Be as long in hearing my reply so that you can, with knowledge, judge for yourself.

    Your words are clever—but I would be mistaken to learn from you,
    Since I have found how dangerous and hostile you are to me.

    That is the first thing you should hear me speak about. 525

    Do not tell me: it is that you are not a traitor!

    If you believe that what is valuable is pride, by itself,
    Without a purpose, then your judgement is not right.

    If you believe you can betray a kinsman
    And escape without punishment, then your judgement is no good. 530

    I agree that such a thing is correct
    So inform me what injury you say I have inflicted.

    Did you convince me or did you not convince me that I should
    Send a man to bring here that respected prophet?

    I am the same person now as the one who gave that advice. 535

    How long is the duration since Laius—

    Since he did what? I do not understand.

    Since he disappeared: removed by deadly force?

    The measurement of that duration is great—far into the past.

    So—was that prophet then at his art? 540

    Yes: of equal skill and having the same respect as now.

    At that period did he make mention of me?

    Certainly not to me nor when I was standing nearby.

    Was there no inquiry held about the killing?

    It was indeed undertaken, although nothing was learned. 545

    So why did that clever person not speak , then?

    I do not know. And about things I cannot judge for myself, I prefer to be silent.

    But you do know why and would say it if you had good judgement!

    What? If I did know, then I would not deny it.

    It is that if he had not met with you, 550
    He would not have spoken about “my” killing of Laius.

    You should know if he indeed said that.
    Now, however, it is fair that I question you just as you have me.

    Question me well—for you will never convict me as the killer!

    Nevertheless. You had my sister—took her as wife? 555

    That is an assertion that cannot be denied.

    Does she, in this land, possess an authority the equal of yours?

    Whatsoever is her wish, she obtains from me.

    And am I—who completes the triad—not the equal of you both?

    And it because of that, that you are exposed as a traitor to your kin! 560

    No! For consider these reasons for yourself, as I have,
    Examining this first: do you believe anyone
    Would prefer authority with all its problems
    To untroubled calm if they retained the same superiority?
    I myself do not nurture such a desire 565
    To be King rather than do the deeds of a King:
    No one commanding good judgement would, whoever they were.
    Now, and from you, I receive everything with no problems
    But if the authority was mine, I would have to do many things against my nature.
    How then could being a King bring me more pleasure 570
    Than the trouble-free authority and power I have?
    I am not yet so much deceived
    As to want honours other than those which profit me.
    Now, I greet everyone, and now, everyone bids me well
    Just as, now, those who want something from you call upon me 575
    Since only in that way can they possibly have success.
    Why, then, would I let go of these to accept that?
    A traitor cannot, because of his way of thinking, have good judgement.
    I am not a lover of those whose nature is to reason so
    And would not endure them if they did act. 580
    As proof of this, first go yourself to Pytho
    To inquire whether the message I brought from the oracle there was true
    And if you detect that I and that interpreter of signs
    Plotted together, then kill me—not because of a single vote,
    But because of two, for you will receive mine as well as yours. 585
    I should not be accused because of unclear reasoning and that alone.
    It is not fair when the ignoble, rashly,
    Are esteemed as worthy or the worthy as ignoble.
    I say that to cast away an honourable friend is to do the same
    To that which is with life and which you cherish the most. 590
    It takes a while for an intuition to be made steady
    For it is only after a while that a man shows if he is fair
    Although an ignoble one is known as such in a day.

    Honourable words from someone cautious of falling,
    My Lord. Those swift in their judgement are unsteady. 595

    But when there is a plot against me which is swiftly and furtively
    Moving forward, then I must be swift in opposing that plot
    Since if I remain at rest, then indeed
    What is about to be done, will be—because of my mistake.

    Then you still desire to cast me from this land? 600

    Not so! It is your death, not your exile, that I want! CREON
    When you explain to me what is the nature of this thing “envy”—

    You speak without yielding and not in good faith!

    Is it not your ‘good judgement’ that is keenly being observed?

    But at least it is mine! 605

    And for that very reason it is but the equal of mine.

    But you have a treacherous nature!

    But if nothing has been proved—

    Even so, there must be authority.

    Not when that authority is defective. 610

    My clan! My clan!

    A portion of the clan is for me—not wholly for you!

    My Lords, stop this! It is fortunate perhaps that I observe
    Jocasta approaching from her dwelling, since it is fitting for her 615
    To make right the quarrel which now excites you.
    [Enter Jocasta]

    You wretches! Why this ill-advised strife
    Produced by your tongues? Are you not dishonoured—when this land
    Is suffering—by becoming moved by personal troubles?
    You should go within; while you, Creon, should go to your dwelling
    So as not to let what is only nothing become a great sorrow. 620

    My kin by blood! It is horrible what your husband Oedipus,
    From two unfair things, has decided it is right to do!
    To push me from this land of my ancestors—or to seize and kill me!

    Yes! For he was, my lady, caught trying to injure
    My person by a cowardly art. 625

    [looking upward]
    Deny me, this day, your assistance—curse and destroy me
    If I committed that which I am accused of doing!

    Before the god, trust him, Oedipus!
    Chiefly because of this oath to the god
    And then because of me and these others here beside you. 630

    My Lord—be persuaded, having agreed to reflect on this.

    To what do you wish me to yield?

    Respect he who before has never been weak—he now strengthened by that oath.

    Do you know what it is that you so desire?

    I do know. 635

    Then explain what you believe it to be.

    When a comrade is under oath, you should never accuse him
    Because of unproved rumours and brand him as being without honour.

    Then attend to this well. When you seek this, it is my
    Destruction that is saught—or exile from this land. 640

    No! By the god who is Chief of all the gods—
    Helios! Bereft of gods, bereft of kin—may the extremist death
    Of all be mine if such a judgement was ever mine!
    But ill-fated would be my breath of life—which the decay in this soil
    Already wears down—if to those troubles of old 645
    There was joined this trouble between you and him.

    Then allow him to go—although it requires my certain death
    Or that I, without honour and by force, am thrown out from this land.
    And it is because of you, not because of him—the mercy coming from your mouth—
    That I do this. As for him—wherever he goes—I will detest him! 650

    It is clear that you are hostile as you yield—and so dangerous, even though
    Your anger has gone. For natures such as yours
    Are deservedly painful to whose who endure them.

    Then go away and leave me.

    I shall depart. To you, I remain unknown—but to these, here, I am the same. 655
    [Exit Creon]

    My Lady—why do you delay in returning with him into your dwelling?

    Because I wish to learn what has happened.

    Suspicion arising from unreasonable talk—and a wounding that was unfair.

    From both of them?

    Indeed. 660

    What was the talk?

    Too much for me, too much for this land, wearied before this.
    Since it appears to have ceased, here—let it remain so.

    Observe where you have come to with your prowess in reason
    By me giving way and blunting my passion! 665

    My Lord, I will not say this only this once:
    My judgement would be defective—and by my purposeless judgements
    Would be shown to be so—if I deserted you,
    You who when this land I love was afflicted
    And despairing, set her straight. 670
    Now be for us our lucky escort, again!

    My Lord—before the god explain to me
    What act roused such wroth and made you hold onto it.

    It will be told. For I respect you, my lady, more than them.
    It was Creon—the plot he had against me. 675

    Then speak about it—if you can clearly affix blame for the quarrel.

    He declared that it was me who had killed Laius.

    Did he see it, for him self—or learn of it from someone?

    It was rather that he let that treacherous prophet bring it—
    So as to make his own mouth entirely exempt. 680

    Therefore, and this day, acquit yourself of what was spoken about
    And listen to me, for you will learn for yourself
    That no mortal is given the skill to make prophecies.
    I bring to light evidence for this:
    An oracle came to Laius once—not I say 685
    From Phoebus himself but from a servant—
    That his own death was destined to come from a child
    Which he and I would produce.
    But—as it was reported—one day foreign robbers
    Slew him where three cart-tracks meet. 690
    As to the child—his growth had not extended to the third day
    When we yoked the joints of its feet
    And threw it—by another’s hand—upon a desolate mountain.
    So, in those days, Apollo did not bring about, for him,
    That he slay the father who begot him—nor, for Laius, 695
    That horror which he feared—being killed by his son.
    Such were the limits set by those words of revelation!
    Therefore, do not concern yourself with them: for what a god
    Wants others to find out, he will by himself unmistakably reveal.

    As I heard you just now my lady, 700
    My judgement became muddled as the breath of life left me.

    What has so divided you that you turn away to speak?

    I believed I heard this from you—that Laius
    Was killed near where three cart-tracks meet.

    It was, indeed, voiced—and is so, still. 705

    Where is the place where came his misfortune?

    The nearby land of Phocis—where the track splits
    To come from Delphi and from Daulia.

    How many seasons have passed since that thing was done?

    It was just before you held this land’s authority 710
    That it was revealed by a herald to the clan.

    O Zeus! What was your purpose in doing this to me?

    What is it that burdens your heart, Oedipus?

    Do not enquire yet; rather, explain to me the appearance Laius had:
    Was he at the height of his vigour? 715

    He was big—his had covered in hair but having a recent whiteness.
    His build was not far removed from your own.

    Wretch that I am! For it seems that over myself I,
    without looking, threw that terrible curse!

    What are you saying? My Lord—I tremble as I look at you. 720

    My courage is replaced by fear—that the prophet possesses sight!
    More can be explained—if you make known one more thing.

    Though I still tremble, if I have knowledge of what you ask, I shall speak it.

    Did he have a slender one—or did he have many men
    As escort as befits a warrior chieftain?

    Altogether there were five, one of those being an official—
    And one carriage, which conveyed Laius.

    Now it becomes visible. But who was he, My lady, who gave you that report?

    A servant—the very person who alone returned, having escaped harm. 730

    Then perhaps he is to be found, at this moment, within our dwelling?

    Definitely not. For as soon as he returned here again and saw you
    Were the master of what the dead Laius had held,
    He beseeched me—his hand touching mine—
    To send him away to the wilds as a shepherd to a herd, 735
    Far away where he could not see the town.
    And so I sent him. For I deemed him worthy,
    As a slave, to have a greater reward than that favour.

    Then swiftly—and with no delay—can he be returned here?

    He is around. But why do you desire it? 740

    I fear, my lady, that far too much has already
    Been said by me. Yet it is my wish to see him.

    Then he shall be here. But it merits me to learn,
    My Lord, what burden within you is so difficult to bear.

    I shall not deprive you of that—for what I fear 745
    Comes closer. Who is more important to me than you
    To whom I would speak when going through such an event as this?
    Polybus the Corinthian was my father—
    And the Dorian, Meropè, my mother. I was, in merit,
    Greater than the clansfolk there—until I was, by chance, 750
    Attacked. This, for me, was worthy of my wonder
    Although unworthy of my zeal:
    At a feast a man overfull with wine
    Mumbled into his chalice what I was falsely said to be my father’s.
    I was annoyed by this during that day—scarcely able 755
    To hold myself back. On the one following that, I saught to question
    My mother and father, and they were indignant
    At he who had let loose those words at me.
    Because of this, I was glad, although I came to itch from them
    For much did they slither about. 760
    So, unobserved by my mother and father, I travelled
    To Pytho. But for that which I had come, Phoebus there
    Did not honour me; instead—suffering and strangeness
    And misery were what his words foresaw:
    That I must copulate with my mother—and show, 765
    For mortals to behold, a family who would not endure—
    And also be the killer of the father who planted me.
    I, after hearing this—and regarding Corinth—
    Thereafter by the stars measured the ground
    I fled upon so that I would never have to face— 770
    Because of that inauspicious prophecy—the disgrace of its fulfilment.
    And while so travelling I arrived in those regions
    Where you spoke of the King himself being killed.
    For you, my lady, I shall declare what has not been spoken of before.
    While journeying, I came near to that three-fold track, 775
    And at that place an official and a carriage
    With young horse with a man mounted in it—such as you spoke of—
    Came toward me. And he who was in front as well as the Elder himself
    Were for driving me vigorously from the path.
    But the one who had pushed me aside—the carriage driver— 780
    I hit in anger: and the Elder, observing this
    From his chariot, watched for me to go past and then on the middle
    Of my head struck me with his forked goad.
    He was certainly repaid with more! By a quick blow
    From the staff in this, my hand, he fell back 785
    From the middle of the carriage and rolled straight out!
    And then I destroyed all the others. Yet if to that stranger
    And Laius there belongs a common relation
    Then who exists who is now as unfortunate as this man, here?
    Who of our race of mortals would have a daimon more hostile— 790
    He to whom it is not permitted for a stranger nor a clansman
    To receive into their homes, nor even speak to—
    But who, instead, must be pushed aside? And it is such things as these—
    These curses!—that I have brought upon myself.
    The wife of he who is dead has been stained by these hands 795
    Which killed him. Was I born ignoble?
    Am I not wholly unclean? For I must be exiled
    And in my exile never see my family
    Nor step into my own fatherland—or by marriage
    I will be yoked to my mother and slay my father 800
    Polybus, he who produced and nourished me.
    And would not someone who decided a savage daimon
    Did these things to me be speaking correctly?
    You awesome, powerful, gods—
    May I never see that day! May I go away 805
    From mortals, unobserved, before I see
    The stain of that misfortune come to me.

    I also, my Lord, would wish to draw away from such things.
    But surely until you learn from he who was there, you can have expectations?

    Indeed. There is for me just such an expectation,
    And one alone—to wait for that herdsman.

    And when he does appear, what is your intent?

    I will explain it to you. If his report is found to be
    The same as yours, then I shall escape that suffering.

    Did you then hear something odd in my report? 815

    You said he spoke of men—of robbers—being the ones
    Who did the killing. If, therefore, he still
    Speaks of there being many of them, then I am not the killer
    For one cannot be the same as the many of that kind.
    But if he says a solitary armed traveller, then it is clear, 820
    And points to me as the person who did that work.

    You should know that it was announced in that way.
    He cannot go back and cast them away
    For they were heard, here, by the clan—not just by me.
    Yet even if he turns away from his former report, 825
    Never, my Lord, can the death of Laius
    Be revealed as a straight fit—for it was Loxias
    Who disclosed he would be killed by the hand of my child.
    But he—the unlucky one—could not have slain him
    For he was himself destroyed before that. 830
    Since then I have not by divination looked into
    What is on either side of what is next.

    I find that pleasing. However, that hired hand
    Should be summoned here by sending someone—it should not be neglected.

    I will send someone, and swiftly. But let us go into our dwelling. 835
    I would not do anything that would be disagreeable to you.
    [Exit Oedipus and Jocasta]

    May the goddess of destiny be with me
    So that I bear an entirely honourable attitude
    In what I say and in what I do—
    As set forth above us in those customs born and 840
    Given their being in the brightness of the heavens
    And fathered only by Olympus.
    For they were not brought forth by mortals,
    Whose nature is to die. Not for them the lethargy
    Of laying down to sleep 845
    Since the god within them is strong, and never grows old.
    Insolence plants the tyrant:
    There is insolence if by a great foolishness
    There is a useless over-filling which goes beyond
    The proper limits— 850
    It is an ascending to the steepest and utmost heights
    And then that hurtling toward that Destiny
    Where the useful foot has no use.
    Yet since it is good for a clan to have combat,
    I ask the god never to deliver us from it: 855
    As may I never cease from having the god for my champion.
    If someone goes forth and by his speaking
    Or the deeds of his hands looks down upon others
    With no fear of the goddess Judgement and not in awe
    Of daimons appearing, 860
    Then may he be seized by a destructive Fate
    Because of his unlucky weakness.
    If he does not gain what he gains fairly,
    Does not keep himself from being disrespectful,
    And in his foolishness holds onto what should not be touched, 865
    Then how will such a man thereafter keep away those arrows of anger
    Which will take revenge on his breath of life?
    For if such actions are those are esteemed,
    Is this my respectful choral-dance required?
    No more would I go in awe to that never to be touched sacred-stone, 870
    Nor to that Temple at Abae,
    Nor Olympia—if those prophecies do not fit
    In such a way that all mortals can point it out.
    But you whom it is right to call my master—
    Zeus!—you who rule over everyone: do not forget this, 875
    You whose authority is, forever, immortal.
    For they begin to decay—those prophecies of Laius
    Given long ago, and are even now set aside
    And nowhere does Apollo become manifest because esteemed:
    For the rituals of the gods are being lost. 880
    [Enter Jocasta]

    Lords of this land—the belief has been given to me
    That I should go to the Temples of our guardian gods, my hands
    Holding a garland and an offering of incense.
    For Oedipus lets his breath of life be too much possessed by his heart
    Because of all his afflictions—since, unlike a man who reasons 885
    And determines the limits of what is strange by the past,
    He is fearful when someone, in speaking, speaks of such things.
    Therefore, since none of my counsels have achieved anything,
    I come here—to you, Lycean Apollo, since you are close to us—
    To petition you by asking you with these my gifts 890
    That we are cleansed of defilement by you bringing us deliverance.
    For now all of us are afraid as we behold
    That he who is guiding our vessel is wounded.
    [Enter Messenger]

    Is it from you, stranger, that I might learn where
    Is the dwelling of King Oedipus: 895
    Or, more particularly, if you have knowledge of where he himself is?

    Here are his chambers, stranger, and he himself is within.
    But here is his wife and mother of his children.
    May she always prosper in her prospering descent

    Since by them her marriage is complete. 900

    And may you, also, stranger, because of your worthy eloquence.
    But explain to me what you seek in arriving here
    Or what it is that you wish to make known.

    What is profitable, my lady, for both your family and your husband.

    What is it? And who sent you here, to us? 905

    I am from Corinth. And when, presently, I have said my speech,
    There will be joy—of that I have no doubt—but also an equal sorrowing.

    How can that be? What has a double strength that it could cause that?

    He, as their King: for they who inhabit the land
    Of Isthmia would make him so—so they have said. 910

    How is that? For is not Polybus, the Elder, their Master?

    Not now—because death holds him in a tomb.

    What are you saying? That the father of Oedipus—has died?

    Is my report is not correct, then I merit death.

    Swiftly—my handmaiden—go to your master 915
    To tell him this. You prophecies from the gods!—
    Where is your reality? This was the man whom Oedipus long ago from fear
    Avoided lest he kill him. And now it is because
    Of his own destiny that he died rather than through that of another.
    [Enter Oedipus]

    My Lady, Jocasta: 920
    Why did you summon me here from my chamber?

    Hear this man and, as you listen, watch to where
    It is that those solemn prophecies of the gods lead.

    What report has he—wherever he is from—for me?

    He is from Corinth with the message that your father 925
    Polybus is no more—he is dead.

    Then announce it, stranger—leading it out yourself, old one.

    If that is what I must relate first and clearly
    Then know well that his death has come upon him.

    Was it by treachery—or by dealing with sickness? 930

    A small turn downwards, and the ageing body lies in sleep.

    Am I to assume that he unfortunately perished from a sickness?

    Indeed—for he had been allocated a great many seasons.

    Ah! Then why, my lady, look toward
    The altar of some Pythian prophet, or above to those 935
    Screeching birds—whose guidance was that I would
    Assuredly kill my father? But he is dead
    And hidden within the earth, while I am here
    Without having to clean my spear. Unless—it was a longing for me
    Which destroyed him, and thus he is dead because of me. 940
    But then—that divine prophecy has been, by that circumstance, taken away
    By Polybus lying in Hades, and thus has no importance.

    Did I not declare such things to you, just now?

    Such was said—but I turned away because of my fear of them.

    Do not anymore wound your heart by such things. 945

    But how can I not distance myself from that intercourse with my mother?

    What is there for mortals to fear, for it is chance
    Which rules over them, and who can clearly foresee what does not exist?
    It is most excellent to live without a plan—according to one’s ability.
    You should not fear being married to your mother: 950
    For many are the mortals who have—in dreams also—
    Lain with their mothers, and he to whom such things as these
    Are as nothing, provides himself with a much easier life.

    All that you expressed is fine, except for this:
    She who gave me birth is alive, and since she is now still living, 955
    It is necessary that I—despite your fine words—distance myself from her.

    Yet the death of your father is a great revelation for you.

    Yes—a great one. But I fear she who is living.

    Who is this woman that you so fear?

    Meropè, old one: she who belonged with Polybus. 960

    And what, concerning her, could produce fear in you?

    A strange god-inspired prophecy.

    Is it forbidden for someone else to know—or can it be told?

    Certainly. Once, Loxias said to me
    That I must copulate with my own mother 965
    And by my own hands take my father’s blood.
    Therefore, and long ago, I left Corinth
    And have kept far away from there. And good fortune has been mine,
    Although it is very pleasing to behold the eye’s of one’s parents.

    Was that what distanced you from your clan? 970

    Yes, old one: I did not want to slaughter my father.

    Then why, my Lord, have I not released you from that fear—
    Since I came here as a favour to you?

    Certainly you would merit receiving a reward from me.

    And that was chiefly why I came here— 975
    That on your arrival home I would obtain something useful.

    But I will not rejoin those who planted me.

    My son! It is clearly evident you cannot see what you are doing

    Why, old one? Before the gods, enlighten me!

    —If it was because of that, that you avoided returning to your home. 980

    Yes, out of respect for Phoebus so that what he explained could not be fulfilled.

    A defilement brought to you by they who planted you?

    That, Elder, is the thing I have always feared.

    Then you should know that there is nothing to make you tremble.

    Nothing? Why—if I was the child born to them? 985

    Because you and Polybus are not kin by blood.

    Are you saying that Polybus did not sire me?

    The same as but no more than this man, here!

    How can he who sired me be the same as he who did not?

    Because he did not beget you—as I did not. 990

    But then why did he name me as his son?

    Know that you were accepted from my hands as a gift.

    And he strongly loved what came from the hand of another?

    He was persuaded because before then he was without children.

    When I was given to him—had you purchased or begotten me? 995

    You were found in a forest valley on Cithaeron.

    And why were you travelling in that region?

    I was there to oversee the mountain sheep.

    A shepherd—who wandered in search of work?

    Yes—and that season the one who, my son, was your saviour. 1000

    What ailment possessed me when you took me into your hands?

    The joints of your feet are evidence of it.

    What makes you speak of that old defect?

    I undid what held and pierced your ankles.

    A strange disgrace—to carry such a token with me. 1005

    Such was the fortune that named you who you are.

    Before the gods, tell me whether that thing was done by my father or my mother.

    I do not know—he who gave you to me would be the best judge of that.

    What? From someone else? Then it was not by chance you found me?

    No—another shepherd gave you to me. 1010

    Who was it? Can you point him out? Tell whom you saw?

    He was perhaps named among those of Laius.

    He who once and long ago was King of this land?

    Yes—that man was his shepherd.

    Is he then still living? Is it possible for me to see him? 1015

    You who are of this region would know that best.

    Is there among you here, anyone
    Whoever he might be, who knows this shepherd he speaks of
    Or who has seen him either here or in the wilds?
    If so, declare it—for here is the opportunity to find out about these things. 1020

    I believe is that one in the wilds
    Whom you saught before to see.
    But it is Jocasta—for certain—who could tell of him.

    My lady—do you know if it is he who, before,
    We desired to return to here?
    Is that the one about whom this person speaks? 1025

    The one he spoke about? Why? Do not return to it
    Nor even desire to attend again to this idle talk!

    It could never be that I would fail to grasp
    These proofs which will shed light upon my origin.

    Before the gods! If you value your own life, 1030
    Do not seek that. I have enough pain now.

    Have courage—for even if my three mothers past
    Were shown to be three slaves, you would not be the one exposed as low-born.

    I beseech you to be persuaded by me. Do not do this.

    I cannot be persuaded not to learn of this for certain. 1035

    Yet my judgement is for your good—it is said for the best.

    This “for the best” pained me before and does so again.

    You, the unlucky one—may you never find out who you are.

    Someone go and bring that Shepherd here to me,
    For she can still rejoice in her distinguished origins. 1040

    You are doomed: this and this alone will
    I Say to you—and nothing hereafter!
    [Exit Jocasta]

    Why, Oedipus, has your lady gone, taken away
    By some wild affliction? I am in awe
    Of a misfortune bursting forth because of her silence about this. 1045

    It is necessary that it does burst forth. However lowly
    My seed may be, it is my wish to know about it.
    Although she is a woman, she has a mature judgement—
    But even so, perhaps she is ashamed of my low-born origins.
    But I—who apportion myself a child of the goddess, Fortuna, 1050
    She of beneficence—will not become dishonoured,
    For She was the mother who gave me birth: my kinsfolk
    The moons which separated my greatness and my lowness.
    As this is the nature of my being, I cannot ever go away from it
    To another, and so not learn about my birth. 1055

    If indeed I am a prophet or skillful in reason,
    Then—by Olympus!—you shall not be without the experience,
    O Cithaeron, on the rising of the full moon,
    Of me exalting you—the kinsfolk of Oedipus,
    His mother and provider—by my choral-dance 1060
    Since a joy has been brought to my King.
    Phoebus—I invoke you, that this may also be pleasing to you!
    Who, my son, of those whose living in years is long,
    Did the mountain-wanderer Pan come down upon
    To be your father? Or was it Loxias who slept with a woman? 1065
    For agreeable to him are all those who inhabit the wilds!
    Or perhaps it was he who is the sovereign of Cyllene:
    Or he the mountain-summit dwelling god of those Bacchinites
    Who gladly received you who was found by one of those Helicon Nymphs
    With whom he so often plays! 1070

    If it fitting for me—who has never had dealings with him—
    To make an estimate, Elders, then I believe I see that Shepherd
    Whom we saught before. For his great age
    Would conform and be in accord with that of this man.
    Also, those who are escorting him are servants 1075
    Of my own family. But, about this, your experience
    Has the advantage over mine since you have seen that Shepherd before.

    I see him clearly—and, yes, I know him. For if Laius ever had
    A faithful Shepherd, it was this man.
    [Enter Shepherd]

    You, the stranger from Corinth, I question you first— 1080
    Is this he whom you talked about.

    Indeed—you behold him.

    You there, old man! Here, look at me, and answer
    My questions. Did you once belong to Laius?

    Yes—nourished by him, not purchased as a slave. 1085

    What work did you share in or was your livelihood?

    For the greater part, my living was the way of a shepherd.

    And in what region did you mostly dwell with them?

    It was Cithaeron—and also neighbouring regions.

    This man here—did you ever observe him there and come to know him? 1090

    Doing what? Which is the man you speak of?

    This one, standing there. Did you have dealings with him?

    Not as I recall—so as to speak about now.

    That is no wonder, your Lordship. But I shall bring light
    Upon those things which are now unknown. For well do I know 1095
    That he will see again that region of Cithaeron when he
    With a double flock and I with one
    Were neighbours and comrades for three entire six month
    Durations from Spring to Arcturus.
    Then for the Winter I would drive mine to my stables 1100
    And he, his, to the pens of Laius.
    Was this, of which I have spoken, done or not as I have spoken?

    Your words disclose it—although it is from long ago.

    Well, now say you know that you offered me a boy,
    A nursling to rear as my own. 1105

    What do you mean? What do you ask me for?

    This, sir, is he who was that youngster!

    May misfortune come to you! Why do you not keep silent?

    You—old man. Do not restrain him for it is your speech
    Which should be more restrained, not his. 1110

    Most noble Lord—what is my fault?

    In not telling of the child he asked about.

    But he speaks without looking as he toils without an aim.

    If you will not speak as a favour, you will when you cry-out.

    Before the gods, do not strike someone who is old. 1115

    Swiftly, one of you, twist his hands behind his back.

    You unlucky one! What more do you desire to learn from me?

    Did you give him that child he asked about?

    I did. And it would have been to my advantage to die that day.

    It will come to that if your words are not true. 1120

    Yet much more will be destroyed if I do speak.

    This man, it seems, pushes for a delay.

    I do not. Just now I said I gave him.

    Taken from where? Your abode—or from that of another?

    Not from my own; I received him from someone. 1125

    Who—of these clansmen here? From whose dwelling?

    Your lordship, before the gods do not ask me more.

    You die if I have to put that question to you again.

    Then—it was one of those fathered by Laius.

    From a slave? Or born from one of his own race? 1130

    Ah! Here before me is what I dread. Of speaking it...

    And I, of hearing it, although hear it I must.

    It was said to be his own child. But of these things,
    It is your lady—who is within—who could best speak of them.

    Why? Because she gave it to you? 1135

    Indeed, Lord.

    Why did she want that?

    So it would be destroyed.

    How grievous for she who bore the child!

    Yes—but she dreaded divine prophecies of ill-omen. 1140

    Which were?

    The word was that he would kill his parents.

    Then why did you let this elderly one take him.

    Because, your lordship, of mercy—so that to another land
    He might fittingly convey it: to where he himself came from. 1145
    But he saved him for this mighty wound. If then you are
    The one he declares you to be, know how unlucky was your birth!

    Ah! All that was possible has, with certainty, passed away.
    You—daylight—I now look my last at what I behold by you:
    I, exposed as born from those who should not have borne me— 1150
    As having been intimate with those I should not, and killed those I should not.
    [Exit Oedipus, Shepherd and Messenger]

    You descendants of mortals—
    I count your zest as being equivalent to nothing, For where is the person
    Who has won more from a lucky daimon 1155
    Than just that appearance of fame
    Which later is peeled away?
    Yours—your daimon, Oedipus the unlucky— We hold as an example
    That nothing mortal is favoured. 1160
    For, O Zeus, it was beyond the bounds of others
    That he shot his arrow to win
    An all-prospering lucky daimon:
    He who in destroying that virginal chantress of oracles
    With the curved claws, 1165
    Arose in my country as a defence against death.
    And who since then has been called my Lord
    And greatly honoured as the chief of Thebes the magnificent!
    But now—who has heard of a greater misfortune?
    Who is there so savagely ruined that he dwells with such troubles 1170
    With his life so changed?
    Alas—Oedipus, the renowned! A mature haven
    Was enough for you
    As child and father when you fell upon
    That woman in her inner chamber! 1175
    How, how could what your father pushed into
    Have the vigour for you for so long and in silence?
    Chronos, the all-seeing, has found you, beyond your own will,
    For long ago it was determined that from that marriage which was no marriage
    Those children who have been born were the children that would be born. 1180
    But—as being the son of Laius,
    I wish, I wish that I had never known this.
    For I lament, and my cry is above all the others
    As it comes forth from my mouth.
    To speak straight: you gave me breath again 1185
    But I allowed my eyes to sleep.
    [Enter Second Messenger]

    You who in this land have always been esteemed the most!
    What deeds you are to hear—what behold!—and how much grief
    Will weigh upon you if, on fidelity to your origins,
    Your concern is still for the family of Labdacus! 1190
    For, alas, neither the Ister nor the Phasis
    Can wash clean these chambers, so much suffering
    Do they conceal—soon to be exposed to the light
    As willed, not done outside the aid of will. Those injuries
    Which bring the most grieving, are those shown to be of our own choice. 1195

    What I knew before could not fail to make my grieving
    Anything but grave; after that—what could you announce?

    What is a quick tale to say
    And to understand: the divinity, Jocasta, is dead.

    A misfortune! From what cause? 1200

    By she herself. But, of those events,
    What was most painful is not for you—for you did not view them.
    Yet—as long as my Muse is with me—
    You can learn of the sufferings of her fate.
    She—coloured by emotion—passed within the hall 1205
    To run straight to that bridal-bed of hers
    Tearing at her hair with the fingers of both her hands.
    Then, she went within—thrusting the doors closed—
    To invoke Laius, he who long ago was a corpse,
    Recalling that seed she received long ago by which 1210
    He was killed, to leave her to produce
    Unlucky children from his own begotten child.
    She lamented the bed of her double misfortune:
    From her husband, a husband—and children from that child.
    How, after that, she perished, I did not see 1215
    For with a war-cry Oedipus pushed in—and, because of him,
    We did not behold the end of her suffering.
    To him, we looked as he ploughed around
    For wildly he ranged about, demanding his spear,
    His lady who was not his lady, and where he might find that maternal 1220
    Double-womb which produced he himself and his children.
    He was frenzied, and a daimon guided him—
    For it was no man who was standing nearby—
    And with a fearful shout—as if someone led the way—
    He was propelled into those double-doors and, from their supports, 1225
    Bent those hollow barriers to fall into her chamber.
    And there we beheld that lady suspended
    In the swinging braided cords by which she had stricken herself.
    He, seeing this, with a fearful roar of grief
    Let down the cords which suspended her. Then when she the unfortunate 1230
    Was lain on the ground, there was something dreadful to behold:
    For he tore from her those gold brooches
    With which she had adorned herself
    And raised them to assault his own circular organs,
    Speaking such as this: that they would not have sight of 1235
    Those troubles he had suffered or had caused
    But would henceforth and in darkness have sight of what
    They should not and what he himself should not have had knowledge of.
    Then with a awesome lament not once but frequently
    He raised them to strike into his eyes. At each, blood 1240
    From his eyes dropped to his beard, not releasing blood
    Drop by drop—but all at once:
    A dark storm hailing drops of blood.
    From those two has this burst forth—not on one
    But on that man and his lady, joined by these troubles. 1245
    That old prosperity anciently theirs was indeed once
    A worthy prosperity—but now, on this day, there is
    Lamentation, misfortune, death, disgrace, and of all those troubles
    That exist and which have names, there is not one which is not here.

    Does he who suffers now rest from injury? 1250

    He shouts for the barriers to be opened to expose
    To all who are of Cadmus, this patricide,
    This mother...—I will not say the profanity he speaks—
    So he can cast himself from this land, and not remain
    For this dwelling to become cursed because of his curse. 1255
    But he requires strength and a guide
    For too great for him to carry is that burden
    Which he will make known to you. You will behold a spectacle
    Which even those to whom it is horrible, will make lament for.
    [Enter the blind Oedipus]

    How strange for mortals to see such an accident as this! 1260
    It is the strangest thing of all ever
    To come before me. You—who suffer this—
    What fury came upon you? What daimon
    With great leaps from a great height
    Came upon you bringing such an unfortunate fate? 1265
    I lament for your bad-luck.
    Though I am not able to look at you—
    There is much I wish to ask, much to understand,
    Much to know
    Even though I am here, shivering. 1270

    I am in agony!
    To where, in my misery, am I carried? To where
    Is my voice conveyed as it flees from me?
    You—that daimon! To where have you brought me?

    Somewhere strange with nothing to be heard and nothing to be seen. 1275
    OEDIPUS Nothing announced the arrival of this dark cloud shrouding me!
    Something unconquerable—brought by an unfavourable wind.
    As one do the stings of those goads,
    And the recalling of those troubles, pierce me!

    It is no surprise that because of such injuries 1280
    You endure a double mourning and a double misfortune.

    My friend!
    You, at least, are my steadfast comrade
    Because you have the endurance to attend to the blind.
    For you are not hidden from me—I clearly know, 1285
    Even in this darkness, that it is your voice.

    You of strange deeds—how did you bear
    To so extinguish your sight? What daimon carried you away?

    It was Apollo—Apollo, my friend,
    Who brought such troubles to such a troubled end. 1290
    But it was my own hand, and no other, which made the assault—
    I, who suffer this. For why should I have sight
    When there was nothing pleasing to see?

    These things are as you have said they are.

    Who could I behold? 1295
    Who could be loved—or whose greeting,
    My friend, would be delightful to hear?
    So, and swiftly, send me away from this place.
    Send away, my friend, this great pest—
    This bringer of a curse: the mortal whom our gods 1300
    Detest the most.

    You are as helpless in that resolve as you were in your misfortune:
    Thus I wish you had never come to know of those things!

    May death come to whosoever while roaming those grasslands loosened
    Those cruel fetters and so safely pulled me away from death! 1305
    For it was not a favourable deed.
    For had I died then no grief such as this
    Would have been caused to either me or my kin.

    I also wish that.

    I would not, then, have shed the blood of my father 1310
    As I journeyed, and not be named by mortals
    As the husband of she who gave me my birth.
    I am without a god—an unconsecrated child—
    And now of the same kind as he who gave me this miserable existence!
    If there is a trouble which is even older than these troubles, 1315
    Then it will be the lot of Oedipus.
    CHORUS I do not know if I could say that your intentions were right,
    For it is perhaps better to no longer exist than to live, blind.

    But as to this being done for the best—
    You should not instruct me, nor offer me more advice. 1320
    For, if I had eyes, I would not know where to look
    When I went to Hades and saw my father
    Or my unfortunate mother, since to both
    I have done what is so outstanding that a strangling is excluded.
    Perhaps the sight of children is desirable: 1325
    To behold how those buds are mine will grow—
    But it would certainly not be to these eyes of mine.
    Nor would that of this town, or its towers, or the sacrifices
    Offered to daimons. For it was most unfortunate that I—
    Who as no one else in Thebes prospered most excellently— 1330
    Bereaved myself of such things by my own declaration
    That everyone must push aside the profane one—the one the gods
    Have exposed as unclean and of the clan of Laius.
    After I have made known this, my stain,
    How could I look those here straight in the eye? 1335
    Certainly I could not. And if what is heard could be blocked out
    At that source in my ears, I would not have held myself back
    From this miserable body and thus would be blind and also hear nothing!
    For it is pleasing to dwell away from concern about injury.
    Why, Cithaeron—why did you receive me, and having accepted, 1340
    Not directly kill me so I would never make known
    To mortals whence I was born?
    O Polybus and Corinth—and you that others called the ancient clan-home
    Of my ancestors—I, the beauty that you reared
    Had bad wounds festering underneath! 1345
    For I am found to be defective having been defective from my birth.
    You three routes and concealed valley,
    You grove and narrow place of the three-fold paths:
    You took in from my hands that blood which was my father’s
    But also mine—so perhaps you can still recall 1350
    Those deeds that I did there, and then, when here,
    What I also achieved? You—those rites of joy
    Which gave me my birth and which planted me anew
    By the same seed being shot up to manifest fathers,
    Brothers, sons—the blood of a kinsman— 1355
    Brides, wives, mothers: as much shame
    As can arise from deeds among mortals.
    No one should speak about things they do not favour doing.
    Swiftly then—before the gods and beyond here—
    Hide me away or kill me or upon the sea cast me 1360
    So that you will never look upon me again.
    Come, and dignify this unhappy man by your touch.
    Be persuaded—do not fear. For this misfortune is mine alone
    And no mortal except me can bear it.
    [Enter Creon]

    As to this request of yours—it is fitting that here is Creon 1365
    To act and give advice,
    For he alone is left to be guardian of this region in your place.

    But what is there than I can say to him?
    What trust can with fairness be shown to me?
    For I am discovered as being false to him, previously, in everything. 1370

    I did not come here, Oedipus, to laugh
    Nor to blame you for your previous error.
    [Creon turns to speak to the crowd who have gathered]
    You—there—even if you do not honour those descended from mortals,
    Have respect for the all-nourishing flames of the Lord Helios
    So that this stain is not looked upon when it is uncovered— 1375
    This which neither our soil nor the sacred waters
    Nor daylight will welcome.
    Swiftly now take him into his chambers:
    For the most proper conduct is that only kinfolk
    Look at and hear a kinsman’s faults. 1380

    Before the gods—since you have torn from me a dread
    By you coming here—you, the most noble—to me, a most ignoble man,
    Yield me something. I say this not for myself, but for you.

    What favour do you request so earnestly?

    That you throw me from this land as swiftly as you can 1385
    To where it is known there will be not one mortal to greet me.

    Know that this would certainly have been done—were it not necessary
    For me first to learn from the god what I should do.

    But his saying completely clear—
    That I, the disrespectful one, the patricide, must depart. 1390

    Those were the words—but since our needs have changed
    It is better to learn what must be done.

    But you will enquire of behalf of this unhappy man?

    Yes—as you should now pay tribute to the god.

    Certainly—and I rely on you for this supplication: OEDIPUS 1395
    That you give to she who is within, a tomb such as you might desire
    To lay yourself in—for it is correct to so perform this on behalf of your own.
    As for me—never once let it be deemed fitting, while I happen to live,
    For this my father’s town to have me within it.
    Instead, let me dwell in the mountains—to where is Cithaeron 1400
    Renowned because of me; for my mother and my father
    While they lived appointed it the tomb I would lay in.
    Thus, there I will depart, killed as they desired.
    Yet I do know that neither a sickness
    Nor anything similar will destroy me, for I would never have been saved 1405
    From that death unless it was for some horrible injury.
    Hence I shall await that destiny which is mine—whatever its nature.
    As for my sons—do not, Creon, add them
    To your care. For they are men, and therefore will never
    Lack the ability—wherever they are—to survive. 1410
    But as for those unfortunate ones, my girls
    For whom my table of food was never separate from
    Nor who were ever without me, so that whatever I touched
    Would be shared between us—
    Attend to them, for me. 1415 Would that you could let my hands touch them
    And they lament for my injuries.
    Let these things be, Lord—
    Let them be so, you of this noble race.
    For if my hands could reach them 1420
    I would believe they were mine just as when I had my sight.
    [Enter Antigone and Ismene]

    What is this?
    Before the gods!—Do I not hear those whom I love,
    Weeping? Has Creon let them make lament for me,
    Sending here those who are dearest to me—my daughters? 1425
    Is this right?

    It is right. For I prepared this for you.
    I conjectured this—your present delight—since it has possessed you before.

    Then good fortune to you on your path—
    And may you be guarded by a better daimon than was my fate! 1430
    My children—where are you? Come here—here
    To these my hands of he who is your brother:
    These of he who planted you and which assisted your father
    To see in this way with what before were clear eyes.
    He, my children, who sees nothing, who enquires about nothing— 1435
    He who is exposed as fathering you from where he himself was sown.
    Even though I cannot behold you, I lament for you
    Because I know of the bitter life left to you
    Which mortals will cause you to live.
    For what gathering of townsfolk could you go to? 1440
    What festivals—from where you would not return, lamenting,
    To your dwelling instead of watching the spectacle?
    And when you become ripe for marriage
    Who is there who exists, my children, who would chance it—
    Accepting the rebukes that will as painful for they who begat me 1445
    As they will be for you?
    For what injury is not here? Your father killed his father;
    He seeded her who had brought him forth
    And from where he himself was sown
    You were born—in the same way he himself was acquired. 1450
    Such as this will you be rebuked with. Who then will marry you?
    Such a person does not exist. No, my children, it is without doubt
    That you must go to waste unsown and unmarried.
    Son of Menoeceus! You are the only father
    Who is left to them, for we who planted them are destroyed: 1455
    Both of us. Watch that they do not wander
    As beggars, without a man, since they are of your family—
    Or that they become the equal of me in misfortune.
    Rather, favour them because you see them at such an age as this,
    Deserted by everyone—except for yourself. 1460
    Agree to this, noble lord, and touch me with your hand.
    And you, my children—had you judgement, I would even now
    Have given you much advice. As it is, let your supplication be
    To live where it is allowed and to obtain a life more agreeable
    Than that of the father who planted you. 1465

    Let this abundance of lamentation pass away—and go into those chambers.

    I shall obey, although it is not pleasing.

    All fine things have their season.

    Do you know my conditions for going?

    Speak them—and I, having heard them, will know. 1470

    Send me far from this land.

    That gift comes from the gods.

    But the gods must detest me!

    Then swiftly will your wish be fulfilled.

    But do you grant this? 1475

    I have no desire to speak idly about things I cannot judge.

    Then now lead me from here.

    Move away from your children—and go.

    But do not take them from me.

    Do not desire to be master in all things: 1480
    For you are without the strength which assisted you during your life.

    You who dwell in my fatherland, Thebes, observe—here is Oedipus,
    He who understood that famous enigma and was a strong man:
    What clansman did not behold that fortune without envy?
    But what a tide of problems have come over him! 1485
    Therefore, look toward that ending which is for us mortals
    To observe that particular day—calling no one lucky until,
    Without the pain of injury, they are conveyed beyond life’s ending.

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    This page titled 3.15: Oedipus The King - Sophocles (ca. 496-ca. 406 B.C.E.) is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Laura Getty & Kyounghye Kwon (University of North Georgia Press) .